Big Ten college football is finally here. For some, it is a great reason to celebrate, but as Michigan State Athletic Director Bill Beekman warned Wednesday, it is also a time to be even more responsible.
“I do think it is going to be very critical that our student-athletes, our coaches, and everybody that might be around our team is following all of the rules," Beekman said at a media availibility on Wednesday. "They are wearing their masks and being distant from each other when possible, washing their hands when necessary, staying away from parties and large gatherings, and frankly even small gatherings ... We need to be responsible. If we are responsible, we will be able to field a team and play the games and if we are not, we won’t."
The Big Ten will begin play of an eight game regular season schedule on the weekend of Oct. 24, but it will look extremely different than ever before.
One of the most apparent changes will be the absence of fans in attendance. According to Beekman, families of student athletes and coaches will be prioritized and allowed to attend. As for fans, Beekman believes it is “unlikely” there will be fans in attendance this year.
Daily testing will be conducted starting no later than Sept. 30. If a player does test positive, they must quarantine for at least 21 days before returning to the team.
However, a major cause for concern this summer for the Big Ten has been the potential development of myocarditis, a heart condition that studies have found in some patients that have also tested positive for the coronavirus. In response to this concern, athletes that test positive for COVID-19 will undergo a 4-part cardiovascular test to screen for myocarditis and other heart conditions.
“I think we have put in place an extremely rigorous process that should take care of any cardiac issues that arise as a result of COVID,” Beekman said.
In addition, the Big Ten has ordered all schools to designate a chief infection officer to oversee testing. Beekman said at this time he does not know exactly who that will be but expects to make that decision in the coming days.
“I had some conversation with the medical team earlier today and we are still thinking through that question,” Beekman said of the chief infection officer discussion. “It is an important role that will be the liaison between the university and the conference for reporting our test results.”
Starting this summer, Michigan State has been releasing results of COVID tests done on their student athletes. Beekman said he does not anticipate this changing at all when the football season starts.
An important aspect of the schedule is that there are no built-in bye weeks. This means in the event of a team outbreak, there is no wiggle room to possibly reschedule games if needed.
“I think that's a very real concern,” Beekman said. “In our original schedule, when we had planned to start Sept. 5, you build in several bye weeks and had many contingency plans. Starting Oct. 24, we take a lot of those away and it becomes a much tighter schedule and I think it's probably inevitable that of the 14 teams there will be a time when one or more teams can't play for a week or more.”
Prior to the official season reinstatement, reports such as some on the Dan Patrick Show had been circulating that Michigan State, along with other schools, were against returning to play this fall and would possibly opt out of the season.
Beekman denied those allegations calling them “absolutely bizarre.”
“Michigan State has never in this entire process not been anything other than completely enthusiastic about playing,” Beekman said.
The enthusiasm is a feeling that Beekman said is mirrored in first-year head coach Mel Tucker as well.
“Coach Tucker is over the moon to be playing,” Beekman said.
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